Travel Writing: How to get inspired by your vacation

Vacations. They’re a time that we so desperately need every once in a while to de-stress, relax, and unwind. And that came come in various forms for people, depending on their personal tastes. Some of us like to veg out on the beach for two weeks straight with a daiquiri in one hand and a mojito in the other; some prefer to get lost down the winding streets of some charmingly medieval European town; others prefer to get up at the butt-crack of dawn to go on a sunrise hike followed by morning yoga then another several other high-intensity activities throughout the day. Whatever your vacation style is, there is one thing we can all agree on: as writers, vacation time can be the perfect inspiration for writing – so long as you can find the time.

I recently returned from a trip to Malta, and as I was sipping my morning latte while watching the sun rise, the thought occurred to me: how exactly do you make your vacation work for you? A writer’s work is never done. Plain and simple. While other professions can easily clock out while enjoying vacation, those of us who are writers – either paid or unpaid – are constantly on the clock. The Muses have no concept of vacation time apparently. Here is a list of everything that I discovered while on break that will hopefully inspire you fellow writers to use your vacations to fuel your writing progress:

Set a schedule

I know, I know. This is probably the last thing you want to do, but hear me out. Setting a writing schedule during your vacation is actually a good thing – it means you get actual writing work done. And there is no need to carve out a whole two hours of your day, 20 minutes is totally fine. I personally found that 20 minutes over breakfast in the morning, then 20 minutes before bed was plenty. It was more a way to organize my thoughts and ideas each day. And of course, if you do happen to have a free day where you can just hole up for a couple of hours in a picturesque café or beneath a beach umbrella to write, that’s even better. But if you’re constantly on the go during your vacation, 20 minutes is plenty.

Keep a travel diary

When I go on break, I like to keep a diary where I document everything I saw, ate, smelled, heard, felt, and experienced during my day. For one, even if you don’t do any work on your manuscript or short story, you’re at least keeping your writing muscles flexed. Plus, going back and re-reading your travel diary when you’re home can help you get back into that feeling of awe and inspiration in order to do some creative writing. I have also found that sometimes you describe things in such a nice way, you want to recycle those descriptions into your writing – and that is totally fine!

Learn about the local history through a guided tour

Local history is a great source of inspiration. In Malta, we did several guided tours and day trips and they definitely helped to get the creativity flowing. Learning the history behind that cool-looking building or discovering more about that historical figure will definitely be of benefit to your work at a later point. Some of the stuff I learned about the founding of Valletta and the Knights Hospitaller definitely had me writing down plot ideas for several projects I’m currently working on.

Take in the scenery

Besides being fantastic backdrops for selfies, picturesque places can help inspire ideas. Whether natural or urban, different panoramas can evoke all types of inspiration. I suggest that if you have the time, take a small notebook with you and just start to jot down whatever comes to mind. If you’re in a particular place that you find thrilling, then imagine a scene playing out. It doesn’t have to be a fully realized story concept or anything; just something that can be a starting point for you. And neither setting, either city or countryside, is more beautiful than the other. They both have different kinds of inspiration to give. In addition to taking in the scenery, don’t underestimate the power of people watching. If you’re out to dinner, or on a tour with different people, or chilling on the beach/poolside take some time to observe the scenery between people – those are potential stories waiting to be written.

Airports are the perfect place to write

Unless you’re going on a cruise or planning a road trip, most of us travel to our vacation destinations by plane. Airports are usually over-crowded, over-priced petri-dishes where we go in order to catch a flight to somewhere magical. While they’re no fun, they do provide perfect places for people watching. And following on the point above, airports are a goldmine of potential stories waiting to be written. How many of us have sat in an airport and noticed someone who, for whatever reason, catches our attention and has us wondering, “Where are they headed?” Well, if you’re not doing anything for two hours till boarding, why not imagine their whole story? That woman wearing a fur coat in the middle of summer, the man in an all-black suit with a briefcase, the couple wearing matching shirts – they all would provide a great foundation to interesting characters and storylines.

Writing Horror Fiction in Today’s World

Horror has a seductive hold on us. Horror is like a tentacle crawling from the crypts of our darkest dreams to suck us into horrific nightmares. Horror, if done properly, casts a dark magic, sending chills down readers’ spines.

Now is the time, now is the hour. In my opinion, horror movies such as Insidious 1-2, The Possession of Hannah Grace, and Sinister aren’t scary enough for me. I am an avid writer of horror fiction and I am well read. I know that in order to give readers or viewers the frights royale, readers should be too afraid to not leave the lights on all night and hide under the covers. And curse the writer because they can’t put the book down.

The writer must make extra effort to horrify jaded readers. There is a difference between horrifying and terrifying. One of the two you experience more deeply. Terror is more effective. I won’t watch The Exorcist which deals with similar themes as the movies mentioned above, but does a much better job. The Exorcist doesn’t turn away from something revolting, it stares it in the eye. It makes you look too, when you don’t want to. -and doesn’t let go. The same is true for Silence of the Lambs. But it doesn’t need to gross readers necessarily just to be scary.

Novels such as Dracula and Frankenstein reflected the time or era in which they were written. In Victorian times, darkly romantic fanged noblemen were scary because the society had different fears and beliefs about death than now. Those fears wouldn’t faze us today. Anne Rice wrote about vampires and made vampires intimidating and sexy again. That is why the novels were successful. Today, writers like Suzanne Collins draw from what they view in the world today. We are more sophisticated now yet desensitized at the same time.

If you are interested in penning a horror novel or short story, I suggest the following tips: Get out of your own comfort zone. Change the environment where you write. Bring your writing pad, coffee, and lurk in a cemetery, visit a haunted location or a morgue, and research the folklore of your hometown. You might create something original, which can be helpful. Getting out of your comfort zone and exploring new things breathes new life into your writing. Here are a few more tips.

Buy a tarot deck to inspire you, read dark poetry of a poet you never heard of until now. Go on a trip to a quiet seaside town that has a paranormal history. Be safe as you explore new eerie cemeteries or towns.

Trust in yourself. If you’re fearful while writing the story, there’s a good chance your reader will be too. Pay attention to your dreams. Often dreams reflect our daily lives and what is hidden in our subconscious. Heed your insights and flashes of inspiration. I penned a dark novel based on a flash of inspiration that I would never have dreamed up otherwise. Learn all you can and be openminded. Then when you have created your villainous monster, you can make him or her or it the main character. Be true to your creation, your own monster. Your readers will recognize the true effort you put in.

We have global communication today. We can see the world events on the Internet. The Internet opened a window into the savage truth that we could be in the grip of an almost impending apocalyptic doom. Now that is scary.

Audiences and readers today have seen everything. A novel can be successful still, but writers must be unabashedly original to truly terrify their readers. Look at what is happening in society. The monsters of yesterday are not the monsters of today. It worked for Stephen King and Thomas Harris and with luck, it can work for you too.